Theatre in Wales

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“The Most Dangerous Place to Go”

Theatre Writer Book

Writing Left-Handed , Faber & Faber 1991 , May 21, 2015
Theatre Writer Book by Writing Left-Handed The revival and tour by Headlong of “the Absence of War”, below 4th May, prompted a revisit to David Hare's prose writing from that time. “Writing Left-Handed” is dedicated to Margaret Ramsay and comprises sixteen essays and occasional writing. Their subjects are political theatre, taking risks, public broadcasting, literary fame, the Royal Court Theatre, Raymond William, the theatre company Joint Stock.

Of his own work he writes on the musical “the Knife”, the plays “Knuckle”, “Fanshen”, “Plenty”,“A Map of the World”, “the Secret Rapture”and “Pravda.” The films remembered are “Licking Hitler”, “Saigon: the Year of the Cat”, “Wetherby” and “Paris by Night”. In “Four Actors” Hare recalls Vanessa Redgrave, Blair Brown, Charlotte Rampling and Antony Hopkins acting in roles he had written.

Hare writes that he does not come to prose as first choice. His choice of play-writing rests on an ability to write dialogue. “The theatre”, he says, is “the most subtle and complex way of addressing an audience he can find.” The downside can be terrible in
“the minute agony of seeing plays fail in front of an audience.” But the upside compensates: “one of the great pleasures of writing for the theatre in this country is that the ideas you express can be taken so seriously and enter so smoothly into the currency of political discussion.” He sees the form as playing an exalted role:
“A good play ventilates democracy.”

Hare's aesthetics are not expressed polemically but are a thread through the book's 191 pages. At its heart is the observation that humans are socially rooted. He recalls his first days:

“When I first worked in the theatre the prevailing fashion was for plays set in rooms, in which characters arrived with no past and no future. Human beings, it was implied, lived primarily inside their own heads. This seemed to me to offer not just a boring but an untrue view of life. In all the work I most admired, writers gave me a sense of how history pulls this way and that, of how we live among one another.”

“A theatre which is exclusively personal”, he writes further, “just a place of private psychology, is inclined to self-indulgence; a theatre which is just social is inclined to unreality. History pulls its subjects one way or the other. In book form a trio of his work were called “the History Plays.” His foreword includes this important comment when he talks of relation to “A Map of the World”:

“The play argues that as soon as something happens it is fictionalised. A past event is at once distorted, appropriated to support the private psychology of whoever experiences it. There is no perception without distortion. Nothing rests. Nothing just is. Everything is process. How to harness that process for good, how to use it and not just be its victim?”

He takes a stand for fiction. Big films at the time of writing dramatised the lives of Gandhi, Sydney Schanberg, John Profumo. “The Secret Rapture”, he writes, “for good or ill, developed and originated inside my imagination. It has always been the most dangerous place to go for any story.”

He tales a stand too against the tendency now for theatre to be involved in explorations of some abstraction. “No playwright of any value in my experience sets out to write a play about anything- or if he or she does the result is invariably disappointing.” The art is a depiction of action. The interest in the action is the human dilemma, the jarring of thought and deed. Theatre exposes the difference between what someone says and what they do. “That is why nothing on stage is so exciting as a great lie.”

And he gives the reason for the dedication. “It is this I love in the theatre. I love its volatility. Its special beauty seems to me to come from the fact that at seven-thirty you have no idea how you will be feeling at ten-fifteen.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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